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Disaster

125 die as tear gas triggers crush at Indonesia soccer match

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By Agoes Basoeki And Niniek Karmini in Malang

MALANG, Indonesia (AP) — Panic and a chaotic run for exits after police fired tear gas at an Indonesian soccer match to drive away fans upset with their team’s loss left at least 125 dead, most of whom were trampled upon or suffocated, making it one of the deadliest sports events in the world.

Attention immediately focused on the police use of tear gas, and witnesses described police beat them with sticks and shields before shooting canisters directly into the crowds.

The president of FIFA called the deaths at the stadium “a dark day for all involved in football and a tragedy beyond comprehension,” while President Joko Widodo ordered an investigation of security procedures. While FIFA has no control over domestic games, it has advised against the use of tear gas at soccer stadiums.

Violence broke out after the game ended Saturday evening with host Arema FC of East Java’s Malang city losing to Persebaya of Surabaya 3-2.

Disappointed with their team’s loss, thousands of supporters of Arema, known as “Aremania,” reacted by throwing bottles and other objects at players and soccer officials. Witnesses said fans flooded the Kanjuruhan Stadium pitch and demanded that Arema management explain why, after 23 years of undefeated home matches against rival Persebaya, this one ended in a loss.

The violence spread outside the stadium where at least five police vehicles were toppled and set ablaze. Riot police responded by firing tear gas, including toward the stadium’s stands, causing panic among the crowd.

Spectator Ahmad Fatoni said police had started beating the fans with sticks and shields, and they fought back.

“Officers fired tear gas directly at spectators in the stands, forcing us to run toward the exit,” he said. “Many victims fell because of shortness of breath and difficulty seeing due to tear gas and were trampled.”

He said he climbed the roof of the stands and only came down when the situation calmed down.

Others suffocated and were trampled as hundreds of people ran to the exit to avoid the tear gas. In the chaos, 34 died at the stadium, including two officers, and some reports include children among the casualties.

“We have already done a preventive action before finally firing the tear gas as (fans) began to attack the police, acting anarchically and burning vehicles,” East Java police chief Nico Afinta said in a news conference early Sunday.

More than 300 were rushed to hospitals but many died on the way and during a treatment, Afinta said.

National Police Chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the death toll had been revised down to 125 after authorities found some of the victims were counted twice. More than 100 were receiving intensive treatment in eight hospitals, 11 of them in critical condition.

“The stadium turned into a smoke-filled battleground when police fired tear gas,” said Rizky, who came with his cousin to watch the game.

“I felt hot and stinging in my eyes, I couldn’t see clearly while my head was dizzy and everything went dark … I passed out,” he said. When he woke up, he was already in the emergency room. He said his cousin died because of head injuries.

“We wanted to entertain ourselves by watching a football match, but we got disaster,” he said.

Indonesia’s soccer association, known as PSSI, suspended the premier soccer league Liga 1 indefinitely in light of the tragedy and banned Arema from hosting soccer matches for the remainder of the season.

Television reports showed police and rescuers evacuating the injured and carrying the dead to ambulances.

Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Malang’s Saiful Anwar General Hospital. Others tried to identify the bodies laid at a morgue while medical workers put identification tag on the bodies of the victims.

“I deeply regret this tragedy and I hope this is the last soccer tragedy in this country, don’t let another human tragedy like this happen in the future,” Widodo said in a televised speech. “We must continue to maintain sportsmanship, humanity and a sense of brotherhood of the Indonesian nation.”

He ordered the youth and sports minister, the national police chief and the PSSI chair to conduct a thorough evaluation of the country’s soccer and its security procedure.

Youth and Sports Minister Zainudin Amali also expressed his regrets that “this tragedy happened when we were preparing for soccer game activities, both national and international level.”

At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was praying for “all those who have lost their live and were injured in the clashes that erupted after a soccer game in Malang, Indonesia.”

Indonesia is due to host the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup from May 20 to June 11, with 24 participating teams. As the host, the country automatically qualifies for the cup.

“Unfortunately, this incident has certainly injured our soccer image,” Amali said.

In a statement, FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed condolences on behalf of the global football community, saying “the football world is in a state of shock.” The statement did not mention the use of tear gas.

Ferli Hidayat, local police chief of Malang, said there were some 42,000 spectators at the game Saturday, all of whom were Arema supporters because the organizer had banned Persebaya fans from entering the stadium in an effort to avoid brawls.

The restriction was imposed after clashes between supporters of the two rival teams in East Java’s Blitar stadium in February 2020 caused 250 million rupiah ($18,000) in damage. Brawls were reported outside the stadium during and after the semifinals of the East Java Governor’s Cup, which ended with Persebaya beating Arema 4-2.

Rights groups responded to the tragedy by blaming the use of tear gas in the stadium by police.

Citing FIFA’s stadium safety guidelines against the use of “crowd control gas” by pitch side stewards or police, Amnesty International called on Indonesian authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and independent investigation into the use of tear gas at Kanjuruhan stadium.

“Those who are found to have committed violations are tried in open court and do not merely receive internal or administrative sanctions,” said Usman Hamid, executive director of Amnesty International Indonesia.

He said tear gas should only be used to disperse crowds when widespread violence has occurred and when other methods have failed. People must be warned that tear gas will be used and allowed to disperse. “No one should lose their lives at a football match,” Hamid said.

Despite Indonesia’s lack of international accolades in the sport, hooliganism is rife in the soccer-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence, as in the 2018 death of a Persija Jakarta supporter who was killed by a mob of hardcore fans of rival club Persib Bandung in 2018.

Saturday’s game is already among the world’s worst crowd disasters, including the 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City where over 80 died and over 100 more were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people are crushed to death during a soccer match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa.

___

Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Associated Press journalists Edna Tarigan and Andi Jatmiko in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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Alberta

‘Cautiously optimistic’: Lawyer for trucker in Broncos crash waiting on Federal Court

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

A lawyer for a former truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash says he’s cautiously optimistic that he will get the chance to argue against his client’s possible deportation before Federal Court.

In 2019, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm in the Saskatchewan crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others.

The Canada Border Services Agency recommended in March that Sidhu be handed over to the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide whether he should be deported to India.

Michael Greene, Sidhu’s lawyer, said if the Federal Court decides not to hear the case, the deportation process would continue.

He said all written arguments with the Federal Court were filed in July, adding that no news can be good news when waiting for the court to make its decision.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I know enough not to get cocky about something like that,” Greene said. “Usually when it takes time, it means you’ve got an arguable case.”

It is also a high-profile case, so a judge might want to be extra careful, he said.

Court was told that the rookie Calgary trucker, a newly married permanent resident, went through a stop sign at a rural intersection and drove into the path of the Humboldt Broncos bus carrying players and staff to a junior hockey league playoff game.

The Parole Board of Canada granted Sidhu day parole in July for six months. He can get full parole after that if he follows conditions, including not contacting the families of the victims.

“Day parole means he is at home. He’s with his wife and I can’t tell you how happy that makes them,” Greene said. “They’re trying to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Greene said even if he is granted permission to appeal before the court and is successful, the matter would be sent back to Canada Border Services Agency for another review. He said the original officer put all the weight of his decision on the gravity of the harm caused.

“You can’t get your hopes up too high,” Greene said.

“Sometimes the judge will make comments in their decision that will give some guidance to the (CBSA) officers.”

An online fundraising page set up to raise money to help keep Sidhu in Canada has reached more than $42,000.

A message from Sidhu’s wife, Tanvir Mann, a Canadian citizen, said her husband made a “tragic mistake.”

“When confronted by the unimaginable magnitude of the consequences of his mistake, he did everything he could to make things better,” Mann writes.

“I pray that there are people out there who don’t believe that Jaskirat should be deported and are willing to contribute to my fight to be able to live out our lives in Canada.”

The Canada Border Services Agency has previously declined to comment on Sidhu’s case, but said there are multiple steps built into the process to ensure procedural fairness.

Greene said he understands that several of the victims’ families are still angry.

“It’s completely understandable. It is,” he said. “Everybody deals with grief and loss in their own way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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Disaster

S. Korea in shock, grief as 151 die in Halloween crowd surge

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Concerned relatives raced to hospitals in search of their loved ones Sunday as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who got trapped and crushed after a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul.

Tens of thousands of people were believed to have gathered in Itaewon for festivities on Saturday night. Witnesses say the streets were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley near Hamilton Hotel, as the situation quickly developed into one of the country’s worst disasters in years.

There were concerns the death toll could grow as 24 people among the 104 being treated for injuries are in critical condition, according to Seoul City’s disaster headquarters.

The city government said more than 2,600 people have called or visited a city office in nearby Hannam-dong as of Saturday afternoon, reporting their relatives as out of contact and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crush.

The dead included 19 foreigners, said Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the nationalities of those victims, but it said that they alerted their countries’ embassies in Seoul. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said at least three Chinese nationals were killed.

The bodies of the dead were being kept at 42 hospitals in the capital, Seoul, and nearby Gyeonggi Province, according to Seoul City, which said it will instruct crematories to burn more bodies per day as part of plans to support funeral proceedings.

Around 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area have agreed to shut down their shops through Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would come to the streets through Halloween Day.

An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began and strict rules on gatherings were enforced. The South Korean government eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months and this was the first big chance to get out and party for many young people.

While Halloween isn’t a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go trick-or-treating, it’s still a major attraction for young adults, and costume parties at bars and clubs have become hugely popular in recent years.

Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of U.S. military forces in South Korea operated before moving out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly district known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants and it’s the city’s marquee Halloween destination.

Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their tally. National Fire Agency officials didn’t immediately explain why the tally was reduced but said emergency workers would have had a more accurate idea of the casualties as rescue operations proceeded and that some of the injured would have been converted to deaths. It was also possible that some of those who were lightly injured had returned home overnight and were no longer counted.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a national mourning period on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff. During a televised speech, Yoon said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and the treatment of the injured would be a top priority for his government.

He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure they proceed safely.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”

After the speech, Yoon visited the Itaewon alley where the disaster occurred. Local TV footage showed Yoon inspecting the alley filled with trash and being briefed by emergency officials.

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell and toppled one another “like dominos” after they were pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued, as some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.

Another survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the newspaper.

In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies near the hotel. He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets. People wailed beside the bodies of their friends, he said.

Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled by managing to get into a bar whose door was open in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s surnamed Park told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the side of the alley while others caught in the middle of the alley had no escape.

Choi, the fire department chief, said that bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured are in their 20s.

“Horrific news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, tweeted that reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington “stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”

The last South Korean disaster this deadly also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was partially blamed on excessive and poorly fastened cargo and a crew poorly trained for emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths will likely draw public scrutiny of what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

It was also Asia’s second major crushing disaster in a month. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.

More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers. The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

This was the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.

In 1960, 31 people died after being crushed on the stairs of a train station as large crowds rushed to board a train during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press

 

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